Ibn Rushd-Prize for Freedom of Thought is presented to Mohammed Arkoun
Orient and Occident – the Forgotten Kinship
This Year's Ibn Rushd-Prize for Freedom of Thought is presented to Mohammed Arkoun, Algerian-born philosopher searching for a way to a peaceful co-existence of cultures and religions and who has rendered outstanding services to societies in the Arab world by searching for a genuinely Arab approach to reason and enlightenment.
Only weeks after Shirin Ebadi was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace for her courageous struggle for freedom and democracy in Iran, Mr Arkoun will be presented the Ibn Rushd-Prize for his vision of reforming the Islamic world by a thorough re-interpretation of the history of Religion in the Islamic world. An independent jury, consisting of five prominent Arab intellectuals, elected the emeritus professor of the Sorbonne University at Paris Mohammed Arkoun to receive this year's award.
The IBN RUSHD Prize for Freedom of Thought will be presented for the fifth time on December 6th , 2003. In the Spirit of its namegiver, the philosopher and mediater between the cultures Ibn Rushd (1126 – 1198, aka Averroes), the non-governmental organization IBN RUSHD Fund Fund for Freedom of Thought dedicates itself to supporting the right to freedom of speech and democracy in the Arab world. This year’s prize called for an independent philosopher who has rendered outstanding services to societies in the Arab world by seeking for a genuinely Arab approach to reason and enlightenment.
Mohammed Arkoun, one of the most prominent modern philosophers in the Arab world and an advisor to academic and political personalities and institutions, is explicitly opposed to the thesis of the 'clash of civilisations' that has been made to look so inevitable. His approach is to show similarities between the Islam and the West rather than magnifying the differences and demonising the 'Other', as is unfortunately the prevailing attitude at present. For Arkoun, both of the two imaginary poles "Islam" and the "West" construct the other culture as the enemy.
Arkoun stands for a dialogue between the cultures, his comparative approach to religions and cultures make him a modern-time Ibn Rushd :
In his works, he scrutinises the cultures' common past and their present mutual disapproval and condemnation that result mostly from what he calls "institutionalised ignorance" that spread at an unprecedented scale especially during the last 50 years.
He reproaches the West for the image it has created of Islamic cultures that they deem as remaining in medieval times. The emeritus professor for Islamic history and culture points out that Bagdad was the most modern city of the world in times when witches burnt in Europe. There, the holy inquisition raged, while Islamic societies had a concept of humanism. Libraries and universities were founded; Arab scientists were the ones who preserved the mental heritage of Greek and Roman antiquity by translating Greek philosophers and scientists. This heritage is completely absent from Western minds and even neglected in Western sciences.
Mohammed Arkoun's main focus, however, is on Islamic cultures. He criticises them for being unable or unwilling to create an accomodation between Islamic ideas and scientific and intellectual modernity. He calls for radically rethinking the concept of 'Islam', to put an end to so many arbitrary ideological and even phantasmagoric manipulations by both Muslims and non-Muslims.
Arkoun holds a more discriminating position about the current assertion that Islam never knew the separation between state and religion. He regrets that this intellectual project inaugurated and so strongly advocated by Ibn Rushd was completely abandoned after his death in 1198 by the successive generations in all Islamic contexts until the second half of the 20th century.
He favours the French concept of laicité as the most appropriate system to solve the problems related to authority and power, spiritual and secular spheres of human needs and activities. Laicité protects religious freedom as the modern expression of the freedom of each individual's consciousness. For Arkoun, laicité therefore cannot be represented as an ideology aiming at the negation of religion as a spiritual and ethical way of education for human beings; it does mean, however, limiting the theologians' direct influence on society.
Arkoun's provocative thesis is that Islamic society has never had and desperately needs its own renaissance to revolutionise the "closed official corpus" that Islam has become especially in the last 40 years.
Mr Arkoun will accept the award personally on December 6 , 2003 at 11:00 a.m. in the Goethe Institut, Neue Schönhauser Str. 20 in Berlin-Mitte. There will be a press conference after the ceremony of presenting the award; the reception concluding the presentation will leave room for personal discussion.
Mohammed Arkoun is the editor of the journal Arabica: Journal of Arabic and Islamic Studies founded at the Sorbonne in 1953 and published by Brill.
He produced an extensive body of scientific works, such as L'humanisme Arabe au 4e-10e Siècle (1970, 1982), La Pensée Arabe (6e edition 2003), Lectures du Coran (1982), Critique de la Raison islamique (1984), L'islam. Approche Critique (1989), The Unthought in contemporary Islamic Thought (2002); De Manhattan à Bagdad: Au-delà du Bien et du Mal (2003).